Cry for me, Pakistan

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“Asian” in British police parlance almost invariably means Pakistanis or Pakistani Brits. Of late, Bangladeshi Brits have been added to the roster of terror suspects. Almost all terrorist plots carried out by Islamist extremists in the last five years in Britain have included investigative trails that track back to Pakistan.

About 1 million people of Pakistani descent live in the U.K. and some 400,000 travel back to Pakistan every year. From Karachi, a city of 14 million, or Islamabad, the capital, they can easily make their way to the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) or Baluchistan, two of Pakistan’s four provinces that are governed by politico-religious extremists — a coalition of six parties known as MMA — and locate training facilities in explosive techniques.

Thirteen percent of Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims told pollsters they approved of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, as well the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings against London’s subway trains and a double-decker bus. That’s almost 200,000 in the U.K. alone who sympathize with the terrorists.

So last week’s Muslim doctors plot with two consecutive car bomb attacks in London and one in Glasgow was hardly surprising. Terror suspects monitored by Britain’s MI5 have grown in number by 25 percent in the last six months. Last November, shortly before she resigned as director of MI5, the U.K.’s internal intelligence agency, Eliza Manningham-Buller said 1,600 people were under surveillance in some 200 terrorist cells or groups of extremists. She added 30 active plots “to kill people and damage the economy” were in the planning stage and known to MI5. These grim statistics have grown grimmer since last November.

For six years, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been in deep denial about Taliban’s privileged sanctuaries in the mountainous border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. When he signed a pact with border tribal leaders in North Waziristan last Sept. 5, he said they had agreed to keep both Taliban guerrillas and their al Qaeda allies from fomenting further trouble. Several hundred Taliban and al Qaeda members captured since 2001 were released.

In reality, this was a face-saving device to allow the Pakistani army to stand down. It had lost some 700 men killed and 2,500 wounded in a campaign fought under U.S. pressure.

Since then both North and South Waziristan, two of the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), are under de facto Taliban control. Its leaders say they have established the “Islamic Emirate of Waziristan.” Shariah courts operate in both Wana (south) and Miranshah (north), the two Waziristan capitals. And hundreds of youngsters have been recruited for suicide bombing missions in Afghanistan.

Last April, Uzbek radicals who married local girls, and who were survivors of the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, which covered Osama bin Laden’s retreat from Afghanistan, were ousted by young Taliban Turks, not by the Pakistani army as originally reported. The new Taliban honcho in South Waziristan is Mullah Nazir, 32, who said he wouldn’t hesitate to shelter Osama bin Laden if he requested protection.

Taliban fighters have been stopping cars in FATAland to smash their cassette players. The outlawed Lashkar-e-Islam (LEI) terrorist organization staged a public rally in the Khyber agency. LEI leader Mangal Bagh presided over a public stoning in March and on May 21, he was heard on FM radio ordering the execution of Nasrullah Afridi, a tribal journalist in the Khyber agency. And later that day, a music store was blown up in the home village of the federal interior minister in NWFP.

That same day, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher, on a visit to Islamabad, praised the Pakistani Army for repelling Taliban and al Qaeda operatives on the Afghan border. The army had been lying low for nine months, but next day, May 22, Pakistani commandos and helicopter gunships attacked an al Qaeda camp in Zargarkhel village in North Waziristan. Four al Qaeda operatives were killed. And the agency’s tribal elders resigned, protesting the violation of the pact they signed with Mr. Musharraf last Sept. 5.

Retaliation quickly followed. Taliban fighters car-bombed a military convoy, killing and wounding 10. FATA’s Bajaur agency is under virtual Taliban control. In the NWFP, four districts — Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Swat — are also considered Taliban country. Taliban fighters are now spilling out of lawless FATA into NWFP and Baluchistan.

Finally, Mr. Musharraf warned religious extremism now threatens the entire country, one of the world’s eight nuclear weapons powers. Illegal arms dealers are registering record sales from Karachi to the Khyber Pass. There are some 200,000 Pakistani jihadis in the Waziristans, NWFP and southwestern Baluchistan ready to join the Afghan insurgency.

Unless the Pakistani army restores the central government writ in FATA, the U.S. may decide the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan is tantamount to a declaration of independence by Taliban and al Qaeda — and a green light to bomb and attack with Special Forces. But if Mr. Musharraf decides to reinvade the tribal region, he runs the risk of a national upheaval by powerful radical forces. And if he doesn’t and lets the U.S. attack Taliban’s privileged sanctuaries in FATA, he still runs the same risk, perhaps even greater.

Iftikar M. Chaudhry, the chief justice suspended by Mr. Musharraf, has toured the country, drawing huge crowds demanding restoration of the rule of law. Yet many of them are the same extremists who want to impose Shariah law that blatantly discriminates against women and non-Muslims.

Last January, in the heart of government in Islamabad, Mr. Musharraf allowed the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) compound to mutate into a fortress of armed extremists from which burqa-clad, baton-wielding women sallied forth to terrorize females in Western dress and raid anything they judged to be a location of ill-repute. Hundreds of boys and girls were in separate Koranic schools inside the armed camp. Finally, after six months of prevarication, Mr. Musharraf moved in 12,000 troops to lay siege and arrest the two mullah leaders. Cobra gunships hovered over what was as close to Mr. Musharraf’s presidential palace as the White House is to the Washington Monument. Two dozen were killed and more than 100 wounded in exchanges of gunfire that collapsed the outer walls. Some 1,500 surrendered.

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